Sex ed should be kept focused

In the 19th century, a movement called “uniform state laws” became enormously influential. It involved getting states to write similar laws so that crossing a state border was not such a legally difficult process. Unfortunately, it has led to a one-size-fits-all philosophy and a belief that what works in Roanoke, Va., will work in Reno.

It has also empowered private interest groups that create standards for various legal fields.

The Nevada Assembly is considering legislation broadening sex education in Nevada schools. It’s being described by its sponsors as an “updating” but it’s actually an expansion, and it meets standards set by a private national group.

Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada has argued that Assembly Bill 230 “would mandate that sex ed in Nevada be comprehensive, medically accurate and age appropriate. We know that knowledge is power, and young people need accurate information about their bodies in order to make safe and healthy decisions.”

The problem is, that’s not what AB230 does. It introduces worthy but unrelated topics — cyber bullying, domestic violence, human trafficking, exploitation — into the sex ed curriculum. Human trafficking and sex ed are both about sex, but that doesn’t make them related in a curriculum sense. Cyber bullying and domestic violence are not about sex at all. Exploitation isn’t even defined.

This legislation seeks to get these lines of instruction into the schools by piggy-backing them onto a sex education measure. Sex education is a tough enough sell without playing games with it by manipulating the lawmaking process and using sex ed to sell other lines of study.

Nevada resisted having sex education classes at all for a long time. Finally in 1987, as what appeared to be a worldwide AIDS plague scared the population, Nevada lawmakers approved a program. That 1987 law requires instruction on the human reproductive system, acquired immune deficiency syndrome and other sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual responsibility. Thus, the language providing for comprehensive sex education is already there.

One of the lessons students should learn is the value of keeping lines straight. Packing other topics into sex ed because it’s handy is a mistake. Human trafficking belongs in social sciences. It’s better for schools to publicize the local domestic violence program instead of the sex ed teacher having to consult with that program. It eliminates the middle man. Sex ed should be a rifle, not a shotgun.

Schools cannot be all things to all students, and they should not be used to supplant parents. Not all students come from stable and functional families, but cyber bullying, dating violence and juvenile justice are not matters for the school system. Other agencies are available for students whose homes are not helpful — county health, child protective services, private groups. Just as sex ed classes are for sex ed, schools are for education. We shouldn’t pack them with unrelated functions. If school counselors are well trained and informed, they know how to advise the students on where to get help.

And if these topics are matters for the schools, it should be done straightforwardly, in a “Problems of Adolescence” course, not by quietly slipping them through in a sex education measure.

Finally, the Legislature should stop interfering with curriculum. Nevada legislators over the years have considered legislation requiring schools to do things such as teach the benefits of capitalism, drug prevention, religion and so on . A 1919 Nevada law lobbied through the Legislature by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union required that students be educated on why alcohol prohibition is beneficial. It was still on the books in 1956, almost a quarter century after Prohibition’s repeal.

The State Board of Education, not the Legislature, should be dealing with curriculum. Moreover, the lawmakers should stop politicizing the state’s schools, as when, two years ago, it made the Nevada school superintendent a political appointment by the governor instead of a selection by the State Board of Education, as was done previously. The fiasco of the first governor-appointed superintendent makes clear the need for a return to the previous system.

The bill is not without merit.

It changes opt-in to opt-out. But if it is to do more for Nevada’s high teen pregnancy rate, what sex education needs is a budget increase, not more and unrelated topics to instruct.

Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.

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